For some time, exposure to infection has been implicated as a cause of childhood leukaemia, but no specific infection has ever been identified. In this project, unique new methods are being used to try to pinpoint causal infections. This could have important implications for prevention, and also have vital diagnostic and prognostic value.
Our funding is enabling the team to identify the specific infection that can cause leukaemia in children, research that could lead to the development of ground-breaking new therapies and treatments.
Identification of infections which may play a role in the aetiology of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)
Dr Ian Hampson and Dr Lynne Hampson
University of Manchester
Manchester, M13 9WL
1 June 2015
The causes of childhood leukaemia are not well understood, and this project will look at the role of infection in the causes behind the development of the form of leukaemia known as ALL.
It’s very hard to find any such infection without knowing what to look for, but Dr Ian and his colleagues have developed ground-breaking new methods to predict the type of infections that could be responsible. They are now using this approach to identify infections that are either unique or more common in children with ALL than in disease-free children.
The most promising infections will be selected, and further tests carried out to assess whether antibodies against these infections can be detected in individual blood samples taken from children with and without ALL.
There is a substantial body of evidence that points towards the involvement of an unidentified infectious agent in the development of ALL, and this project aims to provide important new information about the existence of this agent.
The identification of a causal infectious agent would have the potential to lead to the development of a new vaccine that would be used against a viral infection, or an antibiotic or antibacterial-based prevention that could be used in the case of a bacterial infection.
If the early acquisition of specific types of childhood infection serves to protect young people from leukaemia, this would also help in the development of a new means of prevention.
The fundamental questions being addressed in this research have the potential to make a major impact on our understanding of the causes of ALL and for the development of diagnosis and treatments. The impact of identifying a causal infection would have a positive effect on the lives of many young people who are living with leukaemia, and also have broad application for a range of other diseases.
Dr Ian Hampson and Dr Lynne Hampson are specialists in understanding how tumour viruses cause cancer. Most notably, they were the first to discover that drugs normally used to treat HIV could eliminate the virus related to early stage cervical cancer.
Dr Hampson established the Viral Oncology Laboratories at St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester, in 1997 and now leads a group of 10 specialists who are all researching the role played by a variety of viral infections as causes of cancer. The group has proven expertise in the development of the kind of molecular technology needed for this work.